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Ravens 2021 position review: Safety edition

Injuries at corner hurt the unit but they were still solid overall.

Baltimore Ravens vs Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After a turbulent 2021 season that was ravaged and ultimately derailed by injuries, the Baltimore Ravens are completely focused on moving forward. Before we fully turn the page to the 2022 offseason, let’s look back at the overall performance of their safety position group from this last year.

Chuck Clark

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

2021 stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 80 total tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, 12 pass deflection, two interceptions and one touchdown.

The veteran defensive back followed his career-best season in 2021 with another standout year where he started strong and recovered from a midseason slump to finish on a high note. Clark was the veteran leader of the secondary on and off the field and did his best to negate or limit mistakes that others made at the second and third levels of the defense.

One area where he showed the most improvement as the year went on was his ball skills. He made several plays and smart reads to break up and even intercept passes down the stretch after failing to do so consistently to start the year. Pairing him with a true ball-hawking free safety will likely be one of the team’s top priorities this offseason so that he can be used in a more versatile role.

DeShon Elliott

Baltimore Ravens v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2021 stats: Six games, six starts, 23 total tackles, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, two pass deflections, one sack, and one interception.

The fourth-year pro was having an impressive start to the final season of his rookie contract before it was cut short by a torn biceps injury. It marked the third time he ended the season on injured reserve and may make re-signing him more affordable if both parties are interested. Elliott played with the same ferocious physicality that made him a fan favorite in his first year as a full-time starter in 2020. He also showed improved ball skills and coverage ability, both of which were on full display on his first career interception.

Brandon Stephens

NFL: DEC 26 Ravens at Bengals Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 stats: 17 games, 11 starts, 78 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, and four pass deflections.

Elliott’s injury forced the rookie third-round pick out of SMU into a starting role sooner than the team had envisioned when they drafted him but he gained a wealth of invaluable experience in his trial by fire of a first year. Stephens struggled with communication and recognition early on but was still able to make some clutch tackles short of the line to gain and pass breakups deep down the field. He began to play with more consistency as the season went along and played some of his best football during the final month and a half even though it wasn’t enough to help the team win any games over that span.

In year two, he might become more of the matchup piece that many projected he would be if the Ravens can find themselves a natural free safety with great range and ball skills. While Stephens showed he can cover a lot of ground in a hurry and break up the occasional pass, the converted college running back’s ball skills were severely lacking. He failed to reel in a handful of layup interceptions that could’ve turned the tide in some of the Ravens’ losses by providing the offense with shorter fields.

Geno Stone

NFL: JAN 09 Steelers at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 stats: 15 games, one start, 21 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, one pass deflection, and one interception.

After appearing in just two games as a rookie, the 2020 sixth-round pick was rarely inactive and had a larger role on defense in year two. He was mostly limited to special teams during the first half of the season but following Elliott’s injury, he saw increased playing time down the stretch as a rotational third safety that came on the field in sub-packages and obvious passing downs. Stone flashed the same dynamic playmaking ability in coverage that he showed in the preseason and will likely continue to see increased playing time in year three regardless of whoever else the team adds in the offseason.

Tony Jefferson

NFL: DEC 26 Ravens at Bengals Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 stats: Four games, 17 total tackles, one tackles for loss, one pass deflection, one sack, and one quarterback hit.

His return to Baltimore was as good as the Ravens could’ve hoped in the final four games of the season. Even though they lost all four of the games he appeared in, Jefferson made plays in each one. The nine-year veteran safety made plays in coverage, at and behind the line of scrimmage as well as on special teams. He will likely be a candidate to be brought back on a cheap deal at or slightly above the veteran minimum and could play a key role on defense in sub-packages as a dime linebacker.

Ar’Darius Washington

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

2021 stats: Three games, one assisted tackle, seven defensive snaps, and 22 special teams snaps.

After going undrafted out of TCU, he went on to be the only rookie free agent to make the final 53-man roster. Even though he is listed at safety on the Ravens roster, Washington lined up in the slot at nickel cornerback during his limited playing time on defense. He showed a nice nose for the ball and made several plays in the preseason so he could be in line for a larger role in year two depending on what the team does this offseason in regards to their secondary.